Updated: Jan 20, 2019
As the sun came up on a crisp morning in the first week of December, we were buzzing with excitement at Chateau George 7. During the course of that day, 500 new plants found a new home along 400 metres of three borders of the Chateau George 7 estate – and not one of them was a vine!
I love standing on the terrace admiring the view of undulating vines: parcels and sections with rows criss-crossing over the slopes as far as I can see. I have an uninterrupted view in one direction and just a handful of trees on the far horizon in another. But over the last few months, as I dug into how to encourage biodiversity and how best to develop an holistic approach to managing the vineyard for a thriving future, it became obvious that a great solution was planting hedgerow which will enrich the landscape in a number of ways. These low, wild hedges are called ‘ecological corridors’ in French (corridors écologiques) and are made up of indigenous plants that flourish in the local climate and most likely lived around here in former times. We already have plants that grow at ground level amongst the vines which are called cover crops that feed the soil and divert the attention of some pests, but by reintroducing local plant varieties in a hedgerow, we can encourage much richer biodiversity. Quite simply, the wider range of plants along with their fruits and seeds attract loads of additional species of insects, birds and mammals to set up home and therefore encourage a broader and more lasting ecosystem that lives in harmony with the vines. For example, snails can be a pest in the vineyard nibbling at shoots as well as causing potential fruit damage. I have snails in abundance. So it seems logical to introduce a habitat that will encourage their natural predators rather than to find a way to zap them. Similarly, for insects that can bring disease or damage the vines or fruit, introducing a potential home for a natural predator or a plant that will attract them away from the vines, sits much more comfortably with me than spraying with some kind of chemical killer.
I also have a soft spot for hedgerow from growing up in the Dorset countryside. So I am thrilled that we now have 13 varieties of seedlings which will grow into a hedge over the next couple of years. They include hawthorn, wild apple, hazel, hedge maple with some vine peach and holm oak trees too – to give some variation in height in a natural way. And with luck, some hedgehogs will not only find a home but a feast of tasty escargots too. I guess I should have thought to plant some wild garlic and parsley to complete the dish!